The WebXR Business Summit and WebXR Design Summit Are Looking for Speakers

Ben Erwin is one of the people working on the excellent resource guide for VR/AR/XR collaborative platforms, XR Collaboration, which describes itself as “an interactive and comprehensive online tool that helps companies utilize XR collaboration and remote work tools for businesses”. He’s also an entrepreneur who is working on a series of three WebXR Summits, the first of which (the WebXR Development Summit) was held on May 25th, 2021. Kent Bye gives a great overview of what happened at that first summit in a marathon series of tweets, which you can read here, complete to links to the proceedings if you missed it.

What is WebXR? It’s an API (short for Application Programming Interface, that is, a set of functions and procedures allowing the creation of applications) which provides the functionality needed to develop and host VR and AR experiences on the web. (If you want to get into the nitty gritty details, here ya go.) People are excited about WebXR because it provides a standard way to deliver content, with the goal of supporting every possible device, scaling to make use of the hardware that is available to you!

I volunteered to help Ben Erwin get the word out; he’s interested in connecting with folks with specific business and design angles on the immersive web. Here are more details on the next two planned WebXR summits, where he is looking for speakers:

If you have expertise in these areas and you want to help with the Summits, please contact Ben via his LinkedIn profile. Thanks!

Second Life 18th Birthday: The Lost Refuge

The Lost Refuge is partly a puzzle to solve, and partly a tribute to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, who passed away recently. It’s a collaboration between Silas Merlin and Solas Enchantment (a.k.a Solas NaGealai), built for the Second Life 18th birthday celebrations, which you can find on the sprawling virtual fairgrounds here.

You start off in a rocky glen, on a central space with four rushing rivers flowing in all four directions:

There is a magic spell book lying open on the ground, giving you instructions you must follow and items you must collect to obtain prizes.

According to a notecard provided by Solas and Silas:

Step within the looming rock walls, amongst the statues upon the 5 giant pillars that guard the elements. Your first task will be to find the book to learn the lore of the land.  It will help guide you to find the 5 stones that house the gifts and a  hidden world beneath you. 

The lore within the book: “The fairy, the mole the phoenix and the fish were pouring elements into the magic pool in hope of opening the way to the lost refuge for so, so very long that in the end they turned into statues. They were missing a fifth element for the spell to operate. Spirit was missing.

On the eve of the birthday of the world that shelters us all, the overseer crossed over to the other side. In the beyond, he remembered his flock, and visited this land to infuse spirit into the magic waters, to open the way to new wonders to come. Find the elemental rune stones to find your gifts. Hint: always follow the way.

The overseer is a tribute to Ebbe Altberg:

Here are a couple more shots of the Lost Refuge, to entice you to pay a visit!

You can start your exploration of the Lost Refuge here.

VRChat Raises $80 Million in Venture Capital Funding

This morning, VRChat announced that they had successfully raised eighty million U.S. dollars in investment, a sure sign of the growing prominence of social VR.

The official blogpost/press release states:

This new investment will allow us to expand the VRChat team, iterate on the platform and grow our community. This includes the ability for creators to earn and enable more people around the world to access VRChat.

This investment will expedite our efforts in building systems to give our community the ability to organize and earn. Our upcoming Groups system will help people self-organize based on their interests or hobbies, and the Creator Economy will enable anyone to earn from their own creations. These systems alongside other improvements will help foster community growth into the future.

My ears pricked up at the mention of groups and the creator economy, features which many VRChat users have been eagerly awaiting. A commenter on the Discord server, Rainwolf, said:

Apparently that’s like the second-highest investing round on VR in general, as the first highest was the hundred million for Rec Room, and a lot more money than the VRChat investment of 4 million in 2017.

The future looks bright!

UPDATED! Nanome: A Brief Introduction to a Social VR Platform for Exploring Chemistry

Nanome: “The Future of Molecular Design” (VRFocus)

Virtual reality is finding application to many fields, and among them is chemistry. For example, in the spring of 2020, Harvard University used Oculus Quest VR headsets in an undergraduate-level biochemistry class to help students to observe, manipulate, and build molecules and explore the shapes of proteins and drug compounds. (Here’s a link to the recently-published paper in the Journal of Chemical Education. Unfortunately, you’ll have to buy the full-text article, or get a copy via your local public or university library. Remember, librarians are your friends!)

VR use in chemistry is not just for students learning about the basics of chemistry, however; it also has application to research scientists working in the laboratory. A good example of how social VR can be used in cutting-edge, collaborative chemistry research is Nanome, a startup co-founded in 2015 by some engineering students at University of California San Diego, who saw a need for 3D visualization tools to help medicinal and computational chemists and structural biologists reduce their time to market and increase the efficacy of new drugs (a process that can cost billions of dollars per drug).

Nanome recently announced the closure of a successful funding round raising $3 million from several venture capital firms:

“Since our founding, we’ve had a compelling vision about what scientific collaboration should look like and a goal to equip our real-life superheroes — scientists who are discovering ways to combat disease, address climate change and improve people’s lives — with an intuitive virtual interface where they can experiment, design and learn at the nanoscale,” said Steve McCloskey, Nanome CEO and Founder in a statement. “We made huge strides toward realizing that vision in 2020, and this funding gives us firepower to increase our impact, support more research initiatives and continue to revolutionize biotech and scientific research.”

Initially starting as a visualization tool to facilitate research and development by medicinal and computational chemists and structural biologists, Nanome has grown as an open platform for virtual collaboration. During the pandemic organizations have used Nanome’s platform “to assess candidate molecules’ ability to bind viral proteins in 3D,” the company notes.

In fact, Nanome became the first American company to join a coordinated supercomputing project funded by the European Union (EU) Commission to screen chemical libraries for potential activity against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19! (Here’s the press release.)

Nanome is being used in the search for drugs to fight COVID-19

And the best part is, you can try Nanome out for free! Nanome is free to download for personal use via Steam, Viveport, SideQuest, and the Oculus store, supporting the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Valve Index headsets. For academic or commercial use there are various licensing structures; for more details, visit the pricing page on their website.

For more information on Nanome, visit their website or follow the company on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube. I will be adding Nanome to my ever-expanding comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

UPDATE July 9th, 2021: Here’s an interesting article about Nanome, from a website called LabCompare: VR for Science: Drug Discovery and More in the Virtual World, with some great illustrations!

UPDATE Oct. 14th, 2021: A Spt. 7th, 2021 Wall Street Journal article by Sara Castellanos titled Virtual Reality Puts Drug Researchers Inside the Molecules They Study (original; archived version) is a highly recommended read if you want to learn more about Nanome and how it is being used in research.